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JROTC

Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Maricopa High School Air Force Junior ROTC presented its annual awards night Saturday with a series of honors and promotions  and a Change of Command ceremony. Master Sgt. Dishon Gregory ran the national awards portion, while cadets announced promotions. Guest speaker was state Sen. Steve Smith. Among the seniors are four-year JROTC cadets Reno Dugan, who will attend Arizona State University, Dylan Hill, who will attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Ethan Mitchell, who is joining the U.S Army, and Joseph Reyes, who will attend ASU.

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Master Sgt. Dishon Gregory instructs Dylan Hill (center) and Joseph Rice at Maricopa High School. Photo by Victor Moreno

Faced with the choice between U.S. military academies that had accepted her, Maricopa High School graduating senior Dylan Hill announced her decision this month.

 

“I chose West Point because I view it as an excellent institution for teaching people how to lead and, in addition, has a wide array of things to study and participate in,” she said.

 

Hill had also been accepted into the Naval Academy.

 

“Overall, I think that this school will challenge me greatly, whether through tough academics or military training, helping me to gain experiences to draw upon once I become an officer,” she said.

 

The U.S. Military Academy at West Point was established in 1802. To be accepted, applicants must meet academic, leadership and physical requirements and receive a nomination from a member of Congress. Hill was nominated by U.S. Rep. Tom O’Halleran.

 

Hill has been a leader in the MHS Air Force Junior ROTC.

 

“I have been physically preparing for cadet life and training by expanding my physical training schedule and increasing intensity,” Hill said. “But overall the best preparation I have done is multitasking and maintaining things like grades, work, and extracurriculars since West Point is known to challenge one’s ability to manage time effectively.”

 

Hill will be the second MHS graduate in two years to be accepted into West Point. Cadet John Blodgett just finished his first year.

At the Ak-Chin Airport, (from left) Mike Kemery, Reno Dugan, Chief Steve Stahl, Samantha Blaschke, Ian Mase and Capt. Jim Space. Photo by Michelle Chance

Local high school students traded their classrooms in for airplanes.

Air Force JROTC cadets from Maricopa High School have taken to the sky with help from the Civil Air Patrol.

The program is designed to educate cadets about airplanes and give them an opportunity to play pilot.

“It gets them familiar with what flying is all about, so hopefully it builds their enthusiasm about flying and the Air Force,” said Civil Air Patrol Capt. Jim Space.

MHS senior Samantha Blaschke’s first trip in an airplane was last Thursday when she boarded a small CAP craft from Chandler to Ak-Chin Regional Airport.

Her second experience in a plane would be her first time piloting one.

“I’m more excited than nervous, but as soon as I get in the front seat and get a hold of that wheel I know I’m going to be like ‘Oh my gosh, this is going to be interesting,’” Blaschke said before the flight.

Senior Reno Dugan flew the airplane from Chandler to Ak-Chin for more than 30 minutes before Space took over the controls to land.

“At first, I thought it would be scary, but it was actually exhilarating,” Dugan said.

Space taught cadets simple flying maneuvers while touring airspace above Maricopa.

“You don’t really see an experience like that,” said Cadet Ian Mase, a junior at MHS.

Greeting the cadets at Ak-Chin Regional was Maricopa Police Department Chief Stahl, VFW Post 12042 Past Commander Mike Kemery and Maricopa Unified School District Human Resources Director Tom Beckett.

The partnership between the local AFJROTC and CAP was born recently after Lt. Col. Allen Kirksey, leader of the cadets in Maricopa, attended a meeting in the East Valley hosted by the two organizations. Twelve cadets have now had the flying experience, with Alex Odell and Elijah Baxter going up Tuesday.

“As a result of this meeting, both the CAP and AFJROTC will provide orientation flights to cadets in order to motivate and stimulate the cadet’s interest in and knowledge of aviation and aerospace activities as part of its Air Force,” Kirksey said.


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Dylan Hill. Photo by Victor Moreno

By Joycelyn Cabrera

Maricopa High School senior Dylan Hill has received congressional nominations for the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Military Academy (also known as West Point). After months of preparation, paperwork and interviews, the Air Force Junior ROTC cadet is on the road toward acceptance to one or both prestigious service academies.

After a long waiting process, Dylan was excited to get the news of her nomination from Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-District 1). “Aside from the clear reason of wanting to serve my country, I also want to be in a leadership position as an officer, so I can advocate for the enlisted and contribute to the safeguarding of America and its interests.”

Dylan, 17, and her family have called Maricopa home for 10 years. Her favorite classes are AP American Government and JROTC. Dylan has been involved in JROTC all four years of high school. She has been interested in the military since her middle school years and would be the first member of her family to join the U.S military since World War II.

Rather than simply enlisting after graduation, Dylan has gravitated toward an academy for the rigorous environment and training, exposure to military environments, and leadership training. Dylan believes an academy would better prepare her to lead others in any situation, as well as offer her many academically challenging opportunities.

She has been taking steps toward this goal since her freshman year. She practices time-management by constantly juggling AP high school courses, JROTC obligations, a job and extracurriculars. She has participated in cross country, Pinal County Teen Court, Youth Council and Governor’s Youth Commission.

She also exercises at least four times a week.

Above all, Dylan makes it a priority to follow through with the responsibilities she is given.  

Dylan envisions a career as a ground intelligence officer. She would be responsible for many aspects of a military unit, including deployment, tactical employment, planning and welfare of troops.

MHS JROTC Master Sgt. Dishon Gregory considers Dylan a superior student, cadet and citizen. He was “not surprised at all” she received the congressional nomination. Gregory lists Dylan finest qualities as her high standards, attention to detail, motivation, drive and leadership skills.

“I am honored to be able to work with Dylan for the past four years,” said Gregory, who believes she will be successful in anything she chooses to do.

Dylan’s aerospace science teacher Allen Kirksey says she is a proven individual with the highest standards of commitment and dedication to the U.S military.

“Without a doubt, she is ready for increased responsibilities as a cadet at West Point or the Naval Academy… I feel that she will prove to be an invaluable asset to the U.S military as a future officer.”

Maricopa High School also had a graduate in last year’s class – John Blodgett – be nominated for admission to West Point and the Air Force Academy.  He chose West Point.

MHS Principal Rick Abel said he hopes the successes of his students will encourage others to make the same level of effort to show what MHS graduates can do. “Both students have been good examples of good examples.”

 

Joycelyn Cabrera is a student at Maricopa High School.


This story appears in the February issue of InMaricopa.

John Blodgett, now a U.S. Military Academy cadet, sought out his high junior ROTC instructor Allen Kirksey when he returned to Maricopa for winter break.

Maricopa’s West Point cadet survived Beast and his first semester of classes.

2017 Maricopa High School graduate John Blodgett stopped by his old haunts during winter break from the U.S. Military Academy. After a summer of cadet basic training known as Beast Barracks and a semester of intense coursework, he is looking forward to “some alone time.”

That was the biggest adjustment to West Point, he said.

“There are no breaks,” he said. “No alone time. You’re always with somebody. There are room inspections for everything.”

West Point has its challenges scholastically, physically and mentally. After families drop off their freshman sons and daughters, the separation is immediate. Families get a nice tour of the military academy and an introduction to the rigors of academy life their children will face. The plebes get a ruder awakening and are pretty much yelled at by upperclassmen the rest of the day.

All military academies have a form of Beast for basic training seven weeks in summer.

“It’s go, go, go all the time,” Blodgett said, “sleeping in the rain, rucking uphill in the rain. But it’s really just learning how to be a soldier.”

Blodgett’s toughest challenge during Beast was standing around waiting, also part of a soldier’s life. He quickly realized his years of MHS cross country and track were a major advantage.

Cadet John Blodgett in his West Point dress gray uniform. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

He also discovered he was a “decent shooter” when it came to marksmanship.

He said he looks forward to being a Beast squad leader in second class (junior year), when he will have 10 cadets at his command.

Retired Lt. Col. Allen Kirksey, who was one of Blodgett’s Junior ROTC instructors at MHS, said Blodgett already had the “follow me” leadership style in high school. Blodgett dropped in on Kirksey at the high school when he returned home.

“We’re proud of him. He’s looking smart and shiny in his new cadet uniform,” Kirksey said.

Blodgett said about 50 percent of his instructors are captains, and his chemistry instructor is a lieutenant colonel. Classes are intense.

“I have boxing, which is different,” he said. “We go from math to boxing to history.”

It is not unusual for cadets to wash out during Beast or first semester, but his company has stayed intact, helping each other through challenges.

“That’s what makes it all worth it,” Blodgett said.

How is he spending his two weeks at home? “Sleeping and eating.”



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MPD Chief Steve Stahl addresses cadets in Maricopa High School's AFJROTC program.

Steve Stahl, chief of the Maricopa Police Department, never dreamed of becoming a police officer, let alone the leader of an entire jurisdiction.

While attending college, Stahl originally pursued a career in education.

“I wanted to be a school teacher,” he told a group of Air Force Junior ROTC cadets at Maricopa High School Monday morning.

But plans changed. Eventually, Stahl graduated from police academy and held several positions at the Mesa Police Department before taking his first chief of police position in Maricopa.

It was a decision spurred by Stahl’s dedication for his profession, he said, a trait vital for leaders in any field.

“Never chase the money. The money is not going to make you happy. Chase your passion,” Stahl said.

The police chief, dressed in uniform, lectured inside the school auditorium and outlined the personal attributes successful leaders share.

One of the most important traits is honesty, he said.

“If you lie, you lose the core, fundamental element of being part of something bigger than yourself,” Stahl said.

Students listened as the police chief encouraged them to bond with their community and break away from their comfort zones. Stahl asked students how many of them knew there was a mosque located in Maricopa. No hands raised.

“You have to be willing to talk to people who are different from you because they have a lot to offer and you have a lot to offer them,” he said.

Although Stahl decided against a career as a teacher years ago, MHS students said he taught them a lot about their potential.

“Everyone, individually, could be a great leader as long as they try,” said AFJROTC Cadet Nathan Dickinson.

Stahl’s speech is part of a lecture series held at MHS for AFJROTC students.


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Submitted photo

Today Maricopa High School’s Senior Aerospace Science Instructor, Lt. Col. Allen Kirksey, USAF, Retired, took eight AFJROTC cadets to the Titan Missile Museum just south of Tucson in Sahuarita. The cadets included  Jeremy Coyle, Paola Quinnes-Ortiz, Jose Barraza, Dylan Hill, Christina Barcello, Nickolas Adams, Elijah Baxter and Reno Dugan.

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MHS AFJROTC cadets with KC-135R Stratotankers at the newly named Goldwater Air National Guard Base. Submitted photo

Students from Maricopa High School attended the renaming ceremony for an Arizona Air National Guard base in December.

The former Phoenix Sky Harbor Air National Guard Base is now Goldwater Air National Guard Base to honor the late Arizona senator and presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. The ceremony was Dec. 9.

Cadets from the MHS Air Force Junior ROTC program attended, hearing from Gov. Doug Ducey, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton and Barry Goldwater Jr.

Instructor Lt. Col. Allen Kirksey (ret.) called it “an awesome experience.”

The next Curriculum in Action (CIA) trip for the cadets will be a tour of Luke Air Force Base Jan. 19.

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MHS AFJROTC cadets rub shoulders with Sen. John McCain at a state meeting of the VFW.

The Maricopa High School Air Force Junior ROTC cadets have had a busy autumn. Besides being color bearers for football games, they attended a Veterans of Foreign Wars state meeting in Casa Grande, where they met U.S. Sen. John McCain. Oct. 6, they were recognized with a AFJROTC Promotion Ceremony, where they also met state Sen. Steve Smith.

JROTC staff meets for instruction during Leadership Week at Maricopa High School. JROTC photo

Drilling under a hot sun is a hallmark of joining the military.

At Maricopa High School, 14 incoming freshmen got a taste of that with the Air Force Junior ROTC program during Leadership Week, May 23-27.

Retired Lt. Col. Allen Kirksey, the new instructor of the program, said he expects around 150 students participating in the program this year.

Leadership Week is summer camp of sorts for Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps. It is also the first real introduction to ROTC for the students who just finished eighth grade. Continuing cadets put the newcomers through their paces in physical training and combat fitness.

They also received instruction in flag-raising.

And they drilled.

For Chet Carroll, that meant learning “how to step, how to stay in line with everybody else and not try to go too fast or too slow and keep up.”

Unlike other newbies, Carroll is an incoming junior, a transfer from Benjamin Franklin High School in the East Valley, where there was no JROTC program.

“I want to be in the Marines, and I’m assuming this is going to give me a little bit of a head start,” he said.

Maricopa's JROTC keeps a POW/MIA table in the classroom. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson
Maricopa’s JROTC keeps a POW/MIA table in the classroom. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Contessa Ramirez comes to MHS from Desert Wind Middle School. Her father was in the Military Police.

“I thought this was going to be a very cool idea,” she said. “It’s really fascinating, and I want to [join] the Rangers or U.S. Marshals or work on weather for Air Force.”

She said she read two chapters of the Air Force manual to be somewhat prepared, but Leadership Week has taught her how much work she needs to do over the summer.

The camp is not just a chance for upperclassmen to yell at freshmen. They are learning leadership techniques, how to assert themselves and plan for their future.

Incoming junior Dylan Hill has been involved in the JROTC program since freshman year in hopes of a career in the U.S. Army or Marines.

“I think serving my country is one of the most important things I can do,” Hill said.

JROTC, she said, “has made me a better leader. I enjoy the extracurriculars like color guard and drill team.” In fact, she instructs other cadets in color guard.

Keaton Lancaster, an incoming senior, is also using JROTC as preparation for the military.

“The military has always been something I’ve been interested in as a kid. It’s been my dream to join the Army,” he said. “And I feel that ROTC is a way that I can set myself professionally to reach those goals of mine.”

Lancaster’s father was in the National Guard and his grandfather served in Vietnam.

A family background in the military is typical of many cadets. Whitney Mason graduated from MHS in May and is taking her four years of JROTC training to Grand Canyon University and eventually the military. Her grandfather was in the Army, one uncle was in the Army and another uncle works for the Department of Defense.

“Navy offers me more, but Marines is where my heart has always been. So it’s kind of, do I do what I want or do I live comfortably?” she said.

The MHS version of ROTC is Air Force-based with a decidedly aviation-themed curriculum. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson
The MHS version of ROTC is Air Force-based with a decidedly aviation-themed curriculum. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

She came to MHS as a junior after already being involved in Marines JROTC. It was shift in learning, suddenly having to study aerospace science, but experience had already instilled serious self-confidence.

“When I first got here, it was kind of set up that ‘These are the next commanders whether you like it or not.’ And I thought, ‘Oh, but I can match skills with these people.’ So I kind of knocked one of them out of the way and took his spot,” she said.

“Then we lost an entire chain of command at one point because they could not get along. My junior year, we saw that and we said, ‘We are so not going to do that next year.’ And it didn’t happen.”

“It’s helped me grow up a lot,” Lancaster said of JROTC. “It’s helped me change my mindset from, ‘Oh, everything’s a joke,’ to ‘This is something that’s real. This is serious.’ It’s changed me in a good way, and it’s set my professional standards higher.”

Coming into a new school, Carroll said the program allowed him to meet more people and make friends in between school years.

Though Ramirez said she knew some of her classmates in the program from DWMS, “when you’re here, it’s brothers and sisters and family, not friends.”

“I was used to having a commander breathing down my neck. If you’re not doing something right, you’re doing it wrong, always,” Mason said. “Here, it’s kind of OK to make mistakes, but over time if you don’t get it right, you gotta go.”